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Monday, March 19, 2012

More than the Monetary Value

“I really appreciate your help from the bottom of my heart. It is nice to know there are kind people still out there in the world.”

“The Benevolent Community has shown me overwhelming generosity. It has renewed my faith in humanity.”

“…it warms my heart to know that there are generous people out there…I say to others don't ever give up on your dreams and goals.”

“…more than the monetary value, I so greatly appreciate the thought behind the gift. Having a need is a burden, but your action has really lightened the load.”

When I conceived of the Benevolent concept a little over a year ago, I imagined that those who chose to contribute to meet the needs of the individuals on the site would be moved by their experience. I hoped that by allowing for a one-to-one connection between those with needs and those who could help, I would succeed in opening the eyes of donors to the realities of the circumstances faced by low-income adults every day as they strove toward their goals.

What I didn’t anticipate with the same clarity is how moved those who receive help through the Benevolent site would be by the support of those who contributed to their needs. Now I see it clearly. Our recipients are telling us that getting their need supported through Benevolent has been significant not only in a practical way, but also in a much deeper, much more personal way.

“The Benevolent Community has shown me overwhelming generosity. It has renewed my faith in humanity,” Bridgette tells us. She was helped by nine supporters who read her story of striving to complete her college education after having survived cancer.

When I read this and the responses of other recipients who were happily surprised to discover that there were people in the world who would choose to care about and help them – I saw clearly how those who have been trying as hard as they could for as many years as they can remember might easily lose sight of the humanity and kindness in their community and in others.

I know now that Benevolent is delivering more value than I had anticipated.

When we give to those with needs posted to Benevolent’s site, we’re gifting hope and inspiration, and delivering it with respect and humanity. This could seem trite to some, but imagine how impersonal the process of applying for and maintaining one’s unemployment eligibility, paying one’s tuition and rent, filling out papers for children’s school and for special services and supports and job programs can be.

In traditional applications for support or services, people are asked to fill out pages and pages of forms to prove that they’re worthy and not trying to bilk the system. On the Benevolent site, we’re asking questions like “What is particularly challenging about your situation? What is the toughest thing you face?” and “Why will meeting this need now move you towards your future goals?” and “Talk about what it will mean to you if you get your need met.”

These are questions that presume, up front, that the person who comes to Benevolent with a need is human, striving, and has feelings, reactions, and insight. The very uniqueness of this kind of respect and of the willingness of strangers to help out – the way it surprises and touches recipients -- demonstrates the deeply-ingrained impact of the ways we frame and treat need in our country and in our systems of support.

As we continue to meet people’s needs, we now know that we also get to restore their faith in humanity and let them know that there are generous, kind people in their community. Most importantly, we get to let people know that we see them, hear them, and hope they will succeed. That, in itself, is a gift.

- megan kashner, founder & ceo

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Power of Women

Does this sound like your life or the life of a woman you know?

“I have to get my kids to school at different times. On Wednesdays my daughter does basketball in a whole other building, and my son does Boy Scouts way up North.”

This was shared by Jenny whose need is posted to the Benevolent site. In honor of Women’s History Month, this post is dedicated to the power of women to support, persevere, and thrive.

Jenny, her sister and her mother are forces to be reckoned with. They take care of one another, take each other in when necessary, and catch each other when they fall. All the while, keeping everyone around them focused on accomplishing goals and pursuing education.

All this sounds like a rosy picture. Until, that is, we hear the back-story. Jenny survived and stood up against abuse, ran from her abuser, was fired from a job one month before her due date, and found security and help from her sister when she needed it most.

Just facing the realities of everyday life and parenting is a Herculean task. When you add domestic violence and gender discrimination to the mix, it’s a challenge worthy of a superhero. This challenge, of course, is what millions of women around the world face every day. Jenny is one and in my mind’s eye, she is, indeed, a superhero -- deflecting danger and zooming around any obstacle that clutters her path.

These dangers – domestic violence, assault, discrimination, and more – still so seemingly commonplace in our country-- are at the core of this story. Jenny is so much like so many other women – women who survive and persevere, women who take care of everyone around them, rising up from whatever knocks them down. At a time when a woman’s position in politics and public discourse is at a low point, we cannot avoid this all-too-apparent truth – that women’s circumstances continue to be marked by gender-related challenges and obstacles.

As Jenny’s story continues to unfold, we find that it is now Jenny’s sister who needs help. Jenny’s sister has cancer and is on dialysis; Jenny provides transportation to her chemo appointments, dialysis, and work. On top of all that, Jenny is single-handedly raising her kids and preparing to go back to school. I find myself becoming exhausted simply by reading about Jenny’s life and challenges.

”I bring the kids to school, I go to work, I take my sister to work and to her doctor’s appointments and her dialysis appointments, and I will be starting school…”

Jenny is asking for help getting her car repaired so she can continue to drive, get everyone where they need to go and keep them all on track.

I’ve got two kids and they’re active and involved, like Jenny’s. It’s hard for me to fathom how I would ever accomplish what Jenny does each day were I not able to use my car. Helping this superhero woman, who has overcome so much, get her car fixed will mean the difference between whether she and her loved ones can continue to pursue their life goals, or whether they will face an impasse.

There are so many Jennys out there – running from dawn until late into the night, keeping themselves and their family members on track, repelling abuse and assault when it pops into their lives. During this year’s Women’s History Month, I’ll be paying homage to them, feeling grateful for the progress we’ve made for women in this country and around the world, and daunted by what we have yet to achieve.

- megan kashner, founder & ceo